What to Know About Your Baby's Sleep Sounds

a yawning baby

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Once you have a baby, you may quickly discover that the restful, sweet image of “sleeping like a baby” is not always so accurate. You were likely prepared for the fact that your newborn wouldn’t sleep through the night, and would need to eat every few hours, including at night. But often those strange sleep sounds are unexpected. Few of us have been warned that our babies would spend half the night grunting, gurgling, sneezing, squeaking, and whimpering.

The truth is that most babies don’t sleep very soundly or deeply at all—and can be quite noisy. Many go through periods where they toss and turn, fuss and cry, wake frequently, and make all kinds of strange sounds. All that sleepy movement and noise may seem a bit alarming—and not be ideal for your own sleep. However, by and large, it's perfectly healthy.

Rest assured, those sounds emanating from your sweet baby are almost always totally normal and will go away with time. Let’s explore these odd little newborn sleep sounds, why babies make them, and how long they'll stick around.

The Basics of Newborn Sleep

Newborns are naturally restless sleepers. Sure, there are minutes and hours when they sleep soundly—when even the sound of a lawnmower outside or a babbling toddler in the next room doesn’t wake them. However, much of the time, newborns cycle through a range of sleep, from fitful and light to deep and restful, from quiet to loud, from gurgly and grunting to squeaky and snoring, and back again.

Newborn sleep can be a cacophony of sound and action. Many babies are easily wakeful, move and jolt while sleeping, flail their little arms and legs, make sucking sounds, and whimper for food—this is all normal.

Newborn Sleep Is Restless

Newborn sleep sounds and movements are the results of a newborn’s immature nervous system and reflexes. Newborns don't have a dependable sleep cycle yet. Circadian rhythms don’t develop until about six weeks of age, which means that their sleep cycles have little regularity, they have trouble distinguishing night from day, and they wake frequently.

REM Sleep Is More Active

Up until about six months of age, babies spend at least 50% of their time in Rapid Eye Movement (REM), more commonly known as active sleep. During REM sleep, babies are in a lighter sleep state, their heart rate and breathing are faster, and their eyes move beneath their eyelids.

REM sleep is when the brain is most active and dreaming tends to occur. During the REM state, a baby may be moving in conjunction with their dreams or simply due to the activity happening in their brain.

Newborns Have Lots of Sleep Transitions

Babies’ sleep cycles are only about 50 minutes long, with many transitions between sleep states, including light, deep, and dream phases, and back again. Sleep cycles lengthen to 90 minutes by preschool age.

It's during this cycling between sleep states that babies are most prone to move, make noises, and wake up. Babies don’t yet know how to put themselves back to sleep, so when they become wakeful or startled between sleep cycles, they may fuss or cry to call for your attention. Others may make noises and move around while they drift back into a deeper sleep.

Hungry Babies Root While They Sleep

As babies need to eat every few hours, including in the middle of the night, hunger many also be a driver of some of these sounds. When they're hungry, they might smack their lips together, suck on their fists, move around, and begin to fuss and whimper until they are fed.

A baby's sucking reflex also means that they will suck on anything that comes near their mouth, whether or not they are hungry, so a full, satisfied baby may still suck on their fist, even while asleep.

This is why newborn sleep can be such a cacophony of sounds. Maybe newborns such noisy sleepers simply because so much important rest, activity, and growth are happening while they sleep.

Typical Newborn Sleep Sounds

It’s not just the tossing and turning, lip-smacking and suckling, kicking and flailing, or whimpering and crying that makes newborn sleep so noisy. As their respiratory and digestive systems are immature and still developing, you can expect to hear some peculiar and unexpected sounds coming from inside their little bodies. Here we outline common breathing and digestive sounds your baby might make.

Normal Newborn Breathing Sounds

Your newborn may make some odd respiratory noises as they sleep. Most are nothing to be concerned about, including:

  • Gurgling/throat sounds: Newborns don’t have their swallowing mechanism perfected at first, so they may routinely gurgle up some of their milk or saliva. This is more likely to happen while they are sleeping. Eventually, newborns fine-tune their swallowing and this happens less.
  • Stuffy nasal passages: Newborns are notoriously stuffy. It's rare that a newborn has an actual cold—although if they show signs of a viral infection, they should be seen by a doctor ASAP. The reason for the stuffiness is that babies primarily breathe out of their noses, rather than their mouths, to make feeding easier. Nasal breathing is noisy because of a newborn's tiny nasal passages and the protective role of mucus.
  • Sneezing/snorting/whistling: Babies are also frequent sneezers, snorters, and whistlers. Again, this is because they are “nose breathers” rather than “mouth breathers” and because their nasal passages are still very narrow. This tendency is outgrown by about six months.
  • Coughing: Newborns often cough in their sleep. They may be coughing on milk, saliva, or mucus. Usually, their coughing will clear the issue up on its own. If you are concerned and/or coughing persists, you can pick up your baby, burp them, or gently tap their back to help clear out their lungs.

Normal Newborn "Irregular" Breathing Patterns

It's common for newborns to have irregular breathing patterns while sleeping, which can be noisy. While we don't typically think of something described as "irregular" as normal, but in this case, it is. This irregular breathing is part of the healthy developmental process as a baby's immature lungs mature. Here are some normal irregular patterns to know.

  • Periodic breathing: With periodic breathing, your baby will cycle through periods of rapid breathing, breathing that sounds shallow, and short pauses between breaths. These pauses should last no longer than 10 seconds and your baby’s coloring and disposition should stay normal. Periodic breathing resolves after the first month of life.
  • Transient rapid breathing: Babies often have periods where they rapidly inhale a lot of air at once, deeper and deeper. This should last a minute or two. Then, their breathing should return to normal.
  • Seesaw breathing: With seesaw breathing, you’ll see your baby’s belly expand and their chest (rib cage) contract in. This happens periodically and is nothing to worry about as long as it’s brief and your baby’s breathing returns to normal soon after.

Normal Newborn Digestive Sounds

Anyone who spends time with a newborn can attest to the fact that there is a whole lot going on in the digestive department. A baby’s digestive system is still developing and can be quite a noisy process. Babies tend to eat and digest at night, so what you might think of as strange sleep sounds may just be your baby digesting their food or soiling their diaper.

Here are some familiar, perfectly healthy sounds you might hear from your baby’s tummy and elimination process:

  • Belching
  • Burping
  • Hiccups
  • Passing gas
  • Gurgling
  • Churning
  • Growling
  • Grunting

Your Baby's Sleep Will Quiet Down

It’s a gradual process, but most of the causes of your newborn's noisy and restless sleep tend to resolve after the few months or so.

By six weeks, your baby’s circadian rhythms become more regular, lengthen in time, and include more deep sleep. By six months, babies only spend 30% of their sleep cycles in active sleep, as opposed to 50% at birth.

You can encourage the continued development of healthy sleep habits in your newborn by:

  • Keeping nighttime dark and quiet so that your baby’s body will begin to know the difference between night and day.
  • Learning to understand your baby’s sleepy cues, such as eye rubbing, looking "sleepy" or glazed over, and getting fussy. Then, put your baby to sleep promptly when they show signs of fatigue.
  • Encouraging and making time for daytime napping.
  • Starting to establish relaxing and soothing nap and nighttime sleep routines.

If your baby’s digestion seems particularly uncomfortable or strained, you can:

  • Try shorter, but more frequent feedings.
  • Burp your baby more often.
  • Ask your doctor about dietary changes, if breastfeeding, or try a different type of formula.

Your baby’s breathing and digestion should mature significantly after the first month or so. Until then, if your baby seems stuffy or uncomfortable during sleep, you can:

  • Try clearing their mucus by gently wiping away any excess.
  • Try a nasal saline solution rinse.
  • Use a newborn nasal aspirator.

However, in most cases, you don't need to do anything at all as the mucus is part of a baby's healthy nose, keeping dust, lint, or other contaminants from entering the lungs. Discuss with your doctor if you have any concerns about your baby's stuffiness, breathing, digestion—or anything else.

What Baby Sleep Sounds Are Worrisome?

Again, most baby sleep sounds are perfectly normal. However, if your baby shows any of the following signs while sleeping, you should call your pediatrician right away and/or take your baby to the nearest emergency room:

  • Breathing that is strained or constricted
  • Breathing pauses lasting longer than a few seconds
  • Congestion that makes breathing difficult
  • Fever that accompanies any breathing or digestive issues
  • Chest retractions
  • Rapid breathing that lasts longer than usual or has 60 breaths or more per minute
  • Turning blue or having a persistent blue coloring
  • A baby that appears listless or lethargic

To minimize any risks, you should always practice safe sleep with your newborn:

  • Put your baby to sleep on their back.
  • Have your baby sleep on a firm surface.
  • Your baby’s sleep area should be clear of excess items, including blankets, loose sheets, toys, bumpers, and sleep positioners.
  • Don’t overheat your baby’s sleeping area.

A Word From Verywell

Who would have thought that sleeping babies would be such noisy little creatures? Luckily, most of these noises are absolutely nothing to worry about—and sooner than later, your baby will start sleeping more quietly. Most of the noisiness begins to pass after the first month or so.

As for when your baby will sleep soundlessly—and do so all night long…Well, that could take another few months. Sleeping through the night usually comes well after quieter sleeping takes hold, most often between 4 and 12 months. You’ll get there sooner than you think. By that time, instead of a soundtrack of gurgles, grunts, and squeaks, your little one may be entertaining you with babas, mamas, dadas, and other first word wonders.

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